What is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

Most retail food products result from long and complex production and supply chains with variable impacts on environmental health and natural resources.

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool for analyzing the environmental impacts and resources used throughout a product's life, from raw materials extraction to production, and extending through product use and disposal.

Diagram of a product's supply chain

LCA can be used to compare alternative products, processes or services; compare alternative life cycles for a certain product or service; or identify the parts of a life cycle where the greatest improvements can be made.

A standard LCA framework consists of the following distinct steps:

  • Goal and scope definition, which includes defining the system boundary and functional unit of analysis
  • Life cycle inventory (LCI), which includes identification and quantification of all inputs at each stage of the life cycle included within the system boundary
  • Impact analysis
  • Interpretation of impact analysis

Life cycle assessment is the “gold standard” method for understanding the environmental impacts of food products.

Resources & Tools

ASI and UC SAREP researchers and staff have developed LCA models for several food products: